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[Event Summary] Australia-Korea Higher Education Forum: Researach collaboration


Innovation and industrial complementarity mark a bright future for Australia-Korea research collaboration

Australian and Korean research has forged new ground during the pandemic, and growth in collaboration showed complementary strengths and common interests, including in science, energy and innovation.


These were the key messages from discussions on research collaboration at the Australia-Korea Higher Education Forum hosted by the Australian Embassy in Seoul and the Australia-Korea Business Council (AKBC) on 8 June.


Held as part of a series of celebrations marking the 60th year of diplomatic relations, the forum drew more than 150 participants including close to 50 universities and research institutions across the two countries.


In opening remarks, H.E. Catherine Raper, the Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, underlined Australia’s efforts to resume the regular movement of students and researchers at the earliest possible time, and highlighted the role of the Korea Australia Researcher Network.  


The Hon. Simon Crean, Chairman of the AKBC encouraged participants to find “new opportunities to build on and diversify both countries’ strengths”.  


He said education and research underpin many of the opportunities in the Australia-Korea economic relationship including energy and hydrogen, financial services, health and biotech, and food and agriculture, and critical minerals.

Dr. Hae-suk Lee, Director-General (International Cooperation) of the Korean Ministry of Education, also urged both countries to look for “research priorities and areas where they can work more closely.”


Complementary strengths

“There is a natural fit between Australia’s strengths in higher education R&D and Korea’s advantages in business R&D,” said Ms. Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive of the Group of Eight (Go8), a coalition of Australia’s eight leading research-intensive universities.


This has led to partnerships between Australian universities and Korean businesses in industry research. Around 12 per cent of Group of Eight collaborations with South Korea involved an industry partner in 2019. A recent example was joint research by University of Melbourne and Hyundai Motor on hybrid vehicles.


Data on co-authored academic papers shows key areas of research collaboration between the two countries have been clinical medicine, physics, and materials science.


The pandemic has led to “a huge uptick” in biomedical collaboration, Ms. Thomson said, citing, for example, a research project between Monash University and Chosun University to study different COVID-19 treatments.


Speakers also noted Korea’s strong international performance in innovation, evidenced by its leading position on Bloomberg’s Innovation Index over many years, and that it could offer some lessons for Australia’s interests in strengthening research commercialization.


Understanding national priorities

Professor Man-Sung Yim, Associate Vice President of the International Office at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) suggested looking at South Korea’s national research priorities would help researchers identify other areas for collaboration.


He said Korea was focused on strengthening its leadership in five key industries, including electronics, shipbuilding, automobile, chemical, and steel. At the same time, it was set on growing other strategic areas, including biomedicine, energy, the environment, defence, and aerospace.


The session ended with a strong call to action.


“Let’s not wait until the end of travel restrictions to establish or reaffirm our research relationships,” Ms Thomson said. “Whether it’s by phone or Zoom or whatever means necessary, we have to keep going as business as usual.”


[Further reading] Summary of international education discussion